What Is so Special About White Whiskey?
One of the side effects of modern capitalism is the relentless pursuit of growth. Every business has to grow every year, otherwise it’s a disaster. You see how this is reflected in consumer markets – there must always be a new product, a new category, a new way to encourage people to spend their money. So it’s no surprise that even the liquor industry has made efforts to reinvent the wheel. Do we need new whiskeys? No, probably not. But this does not mean that inventing something is not interesting. Hence white whiskey. Technically, white whiskey is not so much a new type of whiskey as it is a new kind of cynical marketing technique. In fact, whiskey producers around the world, especially small distilleries, are faced with two problems. First, traditional whiskey, such as bourbon or rye , takes a long time to mature, during which time it represents nothing more than an expense on the distillery’s bills. Secondly, vodka is whiskey’s main competitor in terms of sales . So the fact that you’ve seen a lot of white whiskey on the shelves isn’t too surprising. But what is it ?
What is white whiskey?
Essentially, white whiskey is unaged (or barely aged) whiskey obtained straight from the distillation process. A traditional whiskey is made clean and strong through a distillation process, then aged in some kind of oak casks, during which it slowly takes on its brown color along with the flavors extracted from the wood. Technically, liquor must be aged in barrels to count as whiskey, although the rule is rather imprecise and literally any time spent in a barrel, even ten seconds, counts.
Many distillers refer to raw whiskey as “white dog”. You will often see this phrase used in white whiskey branding and marketing, but it is misleading. Technically, White Dog is whiskey that has been distilled to age properly. When distillers decide to make unaged white whiskey from the start, they usually change the composition of the mash (ingredients used in the fermentation and distillation process, such as corn, rye, or wheat) to create a different flavor profile from the original raw whiskey. for barrels, where the choice of woods and the amount of time spent aging can say a lot about the taste of the final product.
You can see the economic driving force behind white whisky. If you are a small distillery that is just starting out, the first thing you do is invest a lot of money and time distilling a huge amount of white dogs, and then wait a few years before you can start selling young whiskey to the world. If you need to make money right away, you can use your only asset: all those gallons of white, barely aged whiskey. In this sense, white whiskey is a cunning, if a bit cynical, marketing ploy. It’s like slicing raw potatoes and selling them like raw french fries.
Back to the moonshine days
America has a long tradition of love for white whiskey. Moonshine – that illegal liquor that was brewed in bathtubs and sold in bars during Prohibition – is a type of white whiskey: raw, unaged, and high in alcohol that will kick your ass and possibly blind you temporarily. Modern white whiskey may be a marketing ploy, but it is part of a historic line and still deserves a place in your wine cabinet.
The white whiskey you find on the shelves is not the classic moonshine anyway. Moonshine is not a well-defined category because the product, made a hundred years ago, was produced illegally, without any rules (or sanitary checks) governing its production. It was recycled from anything that could fall into the hands of creators who evade taxes and break the law. These days, what we officially call moonshine usually has a lot of corn in the grist plus added sugar to get closer to the classic product. It’s still incredibly strong – over 190 proofs. (This evening you will never forget to forget.)
As noted above, modern white whiskeys are more elaborately produced, although moonshine can be called moonshine if it makes you feel like a criminal. Distillers typically adjust and massage the mash when they know the result should be a white whiskey, aiming for a specific flavor profile. Unlike vodka, white whiskey will definitely have flavor, so it’s worth trying different varieties . There is also a burgeoning white whiskey cocktail scene, though I would argue that this defeats the very purpose of white whiskey, which is to enjoy raw, unspoiled liquor. In fact, white whiskey is so popular that it is no longer a guaranteed economic lifeline for small distilleries because the big boys are getting involved .